He couldn’t believe it. It had actually worked. A crude pentagram, circle of ashes on the rug, some complicated mumbo-jumbo and poof, there before George sat a real live demon.
It lounged on his living room sofa–purple body covered with white spiky fur, yellow eyes watching George intently, fingernails painted every color of the rainbow–smoking a cigarette. All twelve of its toenails were painted black. As far as George could tell the demon was neither male nor female. Too bad. It had a great pair of legs.
“So. Does this sound like something you might be interested in?” The demon inhaled a big drag off the cigarette but did not exhale. Wisps of smoke trickled from its nose and ears. Except for its looks it might have been a used car salesman, making a deal.
George sat forward in his chair, sweat beading up on his forehead. His tiny apartment felt like a shrinking box.
“Are you for real? This is real, right?” George laughed. “A friggin’ demon. Trust Gramp to come up with something like this. This is way cool.”
“Yes, your grandfather. We enjoy him.” The demon smiled, showing jagged white teeth. “Thoughtful of him to leave you his book before coming to join us.”
“So you’re at my beck and call. You have to obey me–do anything I say?”
The demon laughed, a high tittering sound that ended in a donkey bray. It flicked some cigarette ash on the carpet.
“Something like that. You called me; I’ve brought you a gift. Take it or leave it.”
It was George’s turn to settle back. He stretched out in his chair and smiled at the demon. Outside he heard the usual shrieks of the brats next door. He felt the front wall tremble as the upstairs neighbor slammed his front door, leaving for his afternoon shift. Car exhaust smells from the freeway, gang-banger hieroglyphics on the walls, garbage drifts on the sidewalk. Home sweet home. And in his living room, not four feet away from George, an honest-to-God demon kicking back.
It was crazy, but somehow George felt more at home in here with this beast than he had ever felt out there. Like he’d known the demon before.
He took a deep breath.
“I’ll take it. What is it?”
The demon stubbed the cigarette out on the arm of the sofa and held George’s gaze for a long moment.
“One wish granted.” It scratched a spot on its forearm, smoothed the fur down.
George wanted to jump out of his skin. Damn! Gramp! Three weeks ago he keels over in his backyard, leaving a beat-up shack and a mountain of debt. Before the house sale George rummages through dust-covered crap and lo and behold, finds an ancient book wrapped in animal skins, tucked away in Gramp’s dresser. One look inside and George knows he’s into something special. There’s chants for love-slave spells, instructions for building a voodoo doll, hexes for everyday use and on page 99, a ritual for summoning a demon.
Gramp had taught George many skills over the years, but this was new. The book was clearly intended for George. Inside the cover he found a note written in Gramp’s spidery hand that read simply:
“For George. Use wisely.”
George was sweating big time now. Hey, he was practically drooling. This was the answer to his…what, he didn’t know. Not his prayers, for sure. George had never prayed. But it might be the answer to his fantasies.
He wiped the sweat from his upper lip and cleared his throat, trying to look nonchalant. The chair squeaked as he sat forward again. Time to seal the deal.
“One wish, huh? Well, I do have a wish. For, um, a hobby of mine. To make it–my hobby–easier.” His voice got gravelly and he blinked a big drop of sweat away from his eye.
The demon leaned forward with that bright grin. Its yellow eyes narrowed and, George could swear, actually glittered, like two yellow diamonds in a white swirl. It spoke in a creepy hiss.
“It’s no problem, sweetheart. That will be easy to grant. You can do it anytime, anywhere, in front of anyone, with total freedom. Bravo, George. Wonderful request.”
“And no problems with the law? No jail time, no arrests?” George could hardly believe it. The demon had read his mind and given him his candy, to boot.
“Nothing. Accept this gift, with one small condition.”
George had dreamed of this moment in his darkest dreams. To be able to take his hobby to the next level, the level that Gramp had trained him for, and never worry about getting caught, was all he had ever lived for.
The kids outside were screaming now, loud whooping shrieks that could shatter glass. Probably bashing each other’s skulls in and enjoying every minute of it.
Those screams brought back happy memories of George’s childhood. All those sleep-overs at Gramp’s had brought the bedtime stories. Gramp would start with his war memories, detailing the deaths of his fellow soldiers, the feel of his gun and the smell of smoke and blood. He described darkness, screams, and the feel of a life slipping through your fingers so vividly that chills ran up George’s spine. George would wake up thrashing around from dreams of violence, tears of joy streaming down his face.
As George got older Gramp progressed him to the next level, which was the shoebox of photos that Gramp kept in his closet. No one but George had ever seen Gramp’s “funnies”, as he called them. Pictures of villagers that Gramp had managed to kidnap and execute, deep in the jungle away from prying eyes. Who cared about the disappearance of one more dirty body in a country populated by swine? Gramp did the army a favor. Why waste a perfectly good bullet when you could use a knife?
By his teens George’s mom barely questioned his frequent visits with Gramp, who was more like a father to George than a grandfather–George’s own dad had run off with the babysitter years before. Gramp was his dad’s father, but Gramp hated George’s dad. Called him a pussy, told George over and over that George was the special one, the one Gramp had waited for all his life.
Gramp took George on actual hunts. They would drive at dusk to the edge of the desert then lie motionless in the cooling dark, watching for hours until George was able to inch towards his sleeping target and use Gramp’s knife. He often brought home wisps of fur he’d pulled from the animal’s body. Gramp saved them for George in a box of his own.
And now the demon was offering George’s deepest wish–to use his knife on a two-legged target whenever he chose. He could step out his door in the middle of the afternoon with the traffic roaring, kids screaming and the old Russian women sitting by the door stoop. In the bright sunlight, for God’s sake. And get away with it.
All this for one small condition.
“I suppose you want my soul, or something, right?” George was nobody’s fool, demon or no.
At this the demon burst into that braying laugh that was beginning to get on George’s nerves.
“You gave that away a long time ago, sweetie. But you don’t really believe in that crap, do you?” It leaned forward again and this time George got a whiff of its breath. A cold, rotting stench. “No, no, no. In twenty-four hours your wish will be granted. You will be free to perform any act of violence anytime you like. Let yourself go. You will have total freedom.
“And the condition?”
“Is minor. An initiation for you, so to speak. All we ask is that you accept it with no questions asked.”
George could do that. What did he care about the condition as long as he could go crazy with his knife? This was an offer he couldn’t refuse. He accepted.
George held out his hand to shake on it but the demon only smiled and disappeared in a burst of smoke like a bad horror movie, leaving behind an oily stain on the sofa cushions.
George pitched the cushions later. He’d never liked their color anyway.
He awoke the next morning thrashing around like the old days, sheets and pillowcase drenched in sweat and harsh sunlight streaming in his eyes. His head spun with thoughts of what he would do with his knife. The faces of all the people he hated–the jerk-off kids, the old women with their scowls, the cops–blurred together in a spinning mass.
George spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon in his apartment drinking beer and watching a bunch of idiot programs on cable. At the twenty-four hour mark–4:00 P.M.–he let out a power burp, picked up his knife, and went outside.
The afternoon breeze felt good after his stuffy apartment and George stopped a moment to savor it. He was going to have to air out his place one of these days. Maybe he would keep his windows open while he dragged his prey back inside and let his neighbors enjoy the racket. George smiled. Life was good.
Then he spotted her. She walked past his apartment with slow easy strides, head up and arms swinging. An itty-bitty thing, barely ninety pounds, he thought, nineteen, twenty years old. There was something kind of refined about her, delicate-like in spite of her tank top and tight shorts. She had dark flowing hair like his father. She was the one.
He followed her for two blocks, enjoying the leisurely pace of his hunt.
On the third block he spotted an alley opening onto the street, liquor store beside it. A couple of punks hung near the store, messing around. Their eyes trailed the girl as she walked past amid their gestures and whistles. The girl gave no sign, kept her eyes straight ahead and quickened her pace. George strode by after, unnoticed, like a ghost.
Yeah dudes, check it out, he thought. You wish you were this lucky.
In one motion he leaped forward and grabbed the girl from behind by the waist. She screamed and kicked, but she was so light George didn’t even need to pull her feet out from under her, just picked her up and ran into the alley. George threw the girl down to the ground and raised his knife.
The rookie let out a low whistle. Yeah, L.A. was a freak show but even in his short time on the force this was a first. It would make the evening news for sure, but his wife, six months pregnant, wouldn’t get any of the details from him.
He got statements from two witnesses and the supposed victim, a young girl. His partner stood nearby, joking with the EMTs.
Thing was, the guys seemed more freaked out than the girl. She really had it together for someone who’d seen the whole thing head on. She gave a detailed statement, cool as ice, sitting on the curb. Maybe she was in shock. One of the guys had puked.
The rookie looked down at the body, covered now. How one person could have cut himself up so bad—-up, down, across, over–without dying after the first cut was a mystery to him. In fact, the knife was still stuck in the guy’s throat, a last gesture.
The newswoman motioned to the cop with her mike. He recognized her as the hot redhead from KTRK. The cop walked over to speak with her, glad to leave the oily-smelling alley. He still couldn’t figure out how one human could have directed so much violence against himself, or why. From far off, he heard a crazy sound, like a donkey bray of all things, which for some reason put a chill up his spine. Then he smoothed back his hair and waited for his turn on camera.